As the old saying goes: “What’s old is new again.”
Like Monday’s first World Junior Championship semifinal, which saw Canada and Russia battle for a spot in the gold-medal game, United States-Finland is a rivalry with history. Two years ago, the Finns bested the Americans in the gold-medal game when now-Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko netted the go-ahead goal with 1:26 on the clock. Last year, Finland pitched a shutout to send the Americans home in the quarterfinals and dash their hopes of a fifth straight year with a medal.
Eight players return from last year’s squad for the U.S. (Bobby Brink, Cole Caufield, Arthur Kaliyev, Spencer Knight, Alex Turcotte, Dustin Wolf, Cam York and Trevor Zegras), while Knight was one of three goalies in 2019. Finland has five players returning from 2020 (Santeri Hatakka, Ville Heinola, Mikko Kokkonen, Kari Piiroinen and Aku Raty); Heinola and Anton Lundell, who missed last year with an injury, also won gold two years ago.
“I would imagine the guys that played in the tournament last year might have a chip on their shoulder about it. And certainly, we hope to use that to our advantage,” USA head coach Nick Leaman said Monday afternoon.
The United States comes into the game off a quarterfinal win Saturday night over Slovakia. While the final score was 5-2, it was close until John Farinacci scored his second goal of the game, a beauty of a backhand wraparound, in the third. Matthew Beniers iced it with an empty-netter.
Trevor Zegras chipped in two assists and retook the tournament scoring lead from Canada’s Dylan Cozens at 15 points (Cozens passed him Monday in Canada’s semifinal victory). That total also moves him up the U.S. single-tournament list, tying him with Hall of Famer Mike Modano (1989). Zegras now has nine assists, matching his number (and point total) from last year and putting him one point behind Jeremy Roenick for second on USA Hockey’s career World Juniors points list.
Knight was solid in net once again as he stoned the Slovaks on an uncomfortable number of shots from the slot. The Slovaks’ first goal, by Matej Kaslik late in the second period, ended the Americans’ shutout streak at a World Juniors-record 218:53. Knight and Dustin Wolf combined for 245:07 of shutout time with a goalie in the net. Knight will be back between the pipes for the U.S. against Finland.
Also back will be Patrick Moynihan, who missed his second consecutive game Saturday with an injury. The Devils prospect took a late, high (and, many would say, dirty) hit against Austria (the player was suspended two games for the hit) and was knocked around against the Czechs. He’ll be a welcome addition to the lineup as the Americans take on a strong Finnish team led by Lundell (seven points) and an impressive core of Topi Niemela (a Leafs prospect who also has seven points), Jets prospect Heinola and Hatakka. The Americans did beat Finland 3-2 in their lone tournament tune-up.
“I don’t think it’s a different team,” said Leaman, who mentioned his team watched the New Year’s Eve Canada-Finland game and noted Canada plays a similar style to the Americans. “I certainly went back and watched that game [Sunday] and I’ve watched a couple of their other games, but teams grow throughout the tournament. You play four games in seven days and you’re going to get better; hopefully, your weaknesses aren’t going to be quite as weak.”
In that exhibition game, the teams traded power-play goals before Cole Caufield potted two. Finland enters comes into this matchup off a come-from-behind, last-minute win over Scandinavian rival Sweden.
“They’re a pesky team,” Leaman said. “They stick around. They have a very good power play, they have the second-best power play in the tournament [the USA is No. 1]. So, I think discipline by our team is going to be very important. I think managing the puck is going to be important. I think trying to get them to play in their zone as much as possible is going to be important.”
Sporting News has all the action as the United States and Finland battle for a spot in the gold-medal game against Canada.
(All times Eastern)
USA vs. Finland score, highlights from 2021 World Juniors semifinals
9:04 p.m. — Lines.
World Juniors 2021: Latest news
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